Jailed former president Chen Shui-bian (A-bian, 陳水扁), who served two terms as chairman of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), but gave up his membership after being charged with corruption in 2008, quietly rejoined the party on Wednesday last week.
One might expect this news to make a big splash on the political scene, but both the DPP and Chen’s office have done their best to keep it low-key.
The panel set up by the DPP to review Chen’s application was originally determined to arrive at a consensus decision, but in the end it had to make do with a majority decision because some of its members were still against taking Chen back into the fold. The panel gave a one-sentence explanation, saying it was respecting the decision made by a local party branch. This timid statement does not give the impression that the DPP is confident it has done the right thing.
Some time ago, Lin Cho-shui (林濁水), a political commentator and former chief executive of the DPP Policy Committee, urged the party to use the occasion of Chen’s application to make a historic assessment of his contributions and shortcomings. Lin drew a comparison with the Chinese Communist Party’s assessment of former leader Mao Zedong (毛澤東) as having been “70 percent right and 30 percent wrong” in the aftermath of the disastrous Cultural Revolution, saying that this appraisal had enabled former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) to boldly forge ahead.
However, the DPP has quietly opened the door to Chen without having made any such assessment.
Given the DPP’s lack of attention to the rights and wrongs of the matter, Lin said that this would be an extremely shameful record in the annals of the party.
The return to the DPP of someone who held the office of president for eight years is obviously a highly significant event. Considering its importance, one would expect the party to let Chen enter through the front gate and walk up a broad avenue, but the DPP has kept very quiet. It dares not answer questions that are worrying the public, such as whether Chen’s readmission means that the party has rehabilitated him and agrees that the cases against him are a matter of political repression.
If these are the party’s positions, people want to know whether it will now call on the public to declare war on the oppressor, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), as it did years ago when it pilloried the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) regime, calling for a retrial of the Kaohsiung Incident case. People are wondering whether the DPP wants to see Chen’s reputation restored.
The public will not get any answers to these questions, because Chen has not been readmitted as a result of a debate aimed at getting to the bottom of the matter and establishing the truth, but merely a compromise for the sake of patching up differences among DPP members and supporters.
The party has let Chen back in, not because it agrees that he is a victim of political repression, but because the top ranks do not want to offend him, and because they are afraid of potential exposures by Chen’s family and nagging questions from his supporters, which could have an impact on elections, especially the DPP’s own primaries.
Rather than being confident that they have done the right thing, the party’s leaders made a decision because they were afraid of losing control. They dared not offend Chen, but neither could they explain what they were doing, so all they could do was to quietly approve his application.